Click here to read the current issue. Here’s an excerpt:
Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference with Keynote Dr. Wallace J. Nichols
Registration opens this week for the 10th annual Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference “In It For The Long Haul”. This conference will take place in Avon, CO October 6-8 and works to expand cooperation and collaboration throughout Colorado in natural resource conservation, protection, and enhancement by informing participants about new issues and innovative projects through networking. In 2015, the conference will focus on what is needed to ensure long-term sustainability for river health, public education and organizational management. View the agenda and check back here to register later this week.
We’ll also have the extreme pleasure and great opportunity to hear from keynote speaker Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, author of the bestselling book Blue Mind. Nichols will discuss the emotional, behavioral, psychological and physical connections that draw humans to water – oceans, rivers and lakes and the recent findings in neuroscience that indicate that proximity to water can improve mood, performance, health, and success. Come enjoy his talk at 7:30pm on October 6, bring or purchase your copy of Blue Mind and attend his book signing immediately following the talk.
It’s a great book that has had a big effect on how I live my life. Heartily recommended.
More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.
Synopsis: There is a greater than 90% chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, and around an 80% chance it will last into early spring 2016.
During June, sea surface temperatures (SST) anomalies exceeded +1.0°C across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. The largest SST anomaly increases occurred in the Niño-3 and Niño-3.4 regions, while the Niño-4 and Niño-1+2 indices remained more constant through the month. Positive subsurface temperature anomalies weakened due to the eastward shift of an upwelling oceanic Kelvin wave, which reduced above-average temperatures at depth in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific. In many respects, the atmospheric anomalies remained firmly coupled to the oceanic warming. Significant westerly winds were apparent in the western equatorial Pacific and anomalous upper-level easterly winds continued. The traditional and equatorial Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) were both negative, which are consistent with enhanced convection over the central and eastern equatorial Pacific and suppressed convection over Indonesia. Collectively, these atmospheric and oceanic features reflect an ongoing and strengthening El Niño.
Nearly all models predict El Niño to continue into the Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, with many multi-model averages predicting a strong event at its peak strength (3-month values of the Niño-3.4 index of +1.5°C or greater. At this time, the forecaster consensus is in favor of a significant El Niño in excess of +1.5°C in the Niño-3.4 region. Overall, there is a greater than 90% chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, and around an 80% chance it will last into early spring 2016 (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome for each 3-month period).
Across the contiguous United States, temperature and precipitation impacts associated with El Niño are expected to remain minimal during the Northern Hemisphere summer and increase into the late fall and winter (the 3-month seasonal outlook will be updated on Thursday July 16th). El Niño will likely contribute to a below normal Atlantic hurricane season, and to above-normal hurricane seasons in both the central and eastern Pacific hurricane basins (click Hurricane season outlook for more).
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
A strong frontal system passed through the eastern half of the country at the beginning of the Drought Monitor period, with another system toward the end. Much of the southern Midwest and into the Tennessee Valley received significant rains from these two events, bringing with them drought relief. The Pacific Northwest remained very warm and dry all the way into areas of western Montana. Scattered convective precipitation was observed over much of the southeast and central plains and into New England…
Mixed precipitation patterns, which are common for this time of year, brought good precipitation to portions of South Dakota and northern Nebraska, eastern Kansas, most of Oklahoma and into the panhandle of Texas. These areas were 1-3 inches above normal for precipitation for the week. Areas of North Dakota, central and western Kansas, and central and south Texas were below normal for precipitation this week. Temperatures were below normal for most of the southern plains, while most of northern areas, especially along the western high plains, had above-normal temperatures, with departures of up to 2 degrees above normal. In response to the rains this week and a wetter pattern over the last several weeks, a full category improvement was made to the D0 and D1 conditions in South Dakota and Nebraska this week, leaving behind a small area of D0. No other changes were made, but it was noted that parts of central to western Kansas were drying out; those areas are in need of some precipitation or the drought status will need to show the worsening conditions…
Most of the region was warm during the last week with temperatures 9-13 degrees above normal in the Pacific Northwest and 3-4 degrees above normal over most of the rest of the region. Idaho, Utah, Washington, Oregon, and California all had their warmest June ever (121 years of data) while Nevada had their second warmest, Wyoming their fourth warmest, and Montana their fifth warmest. There was light precipitation scattered throughout the region, with the greatest amounts generally in portions of the southwest. Washington had their third driest June and Oregon their ninth driest June ever. The heat and dryness in the Pacific Northwest led to intensification, which is being introduced this week. The D0 in western Oregon was changed to D1 while in Washington, D2 was expanded in the west and eastern portions of the state and D0 was replaced by D1 in the east. It has been noted that so far, municipal water supplies for the metropolitan areas of western Oregon and Washington are adequate even though the other indicators are showing intense drought development, especially over the last two months. In Montana, D3 was introduced in the west while D2 expanded to the east. In the north central portions of Montana, D1 and D0 were expanded slightly. These changes were mainly in response to the rapid short-term degradation and the impact to agriculture in Montana…
Over the next 5-7 days, precipitation chances look to remain the greatest over the Midwest, where 2-3 inches of rain is forecast from Illinois to Ohio. Rain chances over the west, particularly over northern California, northwest Nevada, southern Oregon, and central Idaho and into the Rocky Mountains, looks to increase, with up to 2 inches possible. The northern plains looks to remain on the dry side as well as the southeast and most of Texas. Rain chances along the Gulf Coast and into Florida look favorable, with amounts up to 1 inch over most areas. Temperatures are forecast to be cooler than normal over much of the west and Midwest while warmer-than-normal temperatures are expected on the plains and in the southeast.
The 6-10 day outlooks show that much of the country has high chances of above-normal temperatures. The greatest chances of above-normal temperatures appear to be over the southeast, Alaska, and the northern plains. Precipitation chances are greatest over the eastern third of the country and the northern plains while the best chances of below-normal precipitation appear to be in the southern plains.
The second draft of the Colorado Water Plan has been released, but instead of listing specific potential projects, the statewide plan still points to eight regional “basin implementation plans” developed by water-supply planning “roundtables.”
And one such regional plan is considered by powerful water interests in the Denver metro area and South Platte River basin to be the necessary water plan for the state, and it includes moving more water from the West Slope to the East Slope.
At the core of the South Platte plan are potential new transmountain diversion or pumpback projects on the Green, Gunnison, Yampa, Colorado, Blue and Eagle rivers.
The plan also highlights conceptual dam projects on the main stem of the Colorado River west of Rifle and at Wolcott, which would store water pumped up from the Eagle River.
“Investigating, preserving and developing additional supplies from the Colorado River Basin is critical to effectively plan for future water supplies,” states the “South Platte Basin Implementation Plan.”
The dry-up of “hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural land” is “the default option if decision makers do not exercise the political will to preserve and promote opportunities to develop Colorado River Basin supply for use along the urban Front Range,” the plan says.
The South Platte plan was prepared by consultants at HDR Engineering and West Sage working under guidance from the members of the South Platte and Metro roundtables. It was submitted to the CWCB in mid-April, as were seven other basin implementation plans from other roundtables.
The South Platte and Metro roundtables include representatives from Denver Water, Aurora Water, Northern Water, the South Metro Water Supply Authority, Weld County, Arapahoe County, and the cities of Thornton, Greeley and Loveland, among many other entities.
Water providers in the South Platte River basin now import 400,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River basin and another 100,000 acre feet from the Arkansas, North Platte and Laramie river basins.
By comparison, Ruedi Reservoir holds about 100,000 acre-feet of water.
And Front Range water providers see the need for another 195,000 acre feet of water for growing cities and 260,000 acre feet more for irrigation, even though the amount of irrigated land is expected to shrink from 831,000 acres to 635,000 acres.
The South Platte plan calls for minimizing the amount of “buy and dry” occurring on the Front Range by increasing the amount of new water supplies from the variety of rivers that make up the Colorado River basin within the state of Colorado.
“Agricultural water transfers can be reduced if other solutions including the development of Colorado River supplies are more successful,” the plan states.
It’s a concept found throughout the South Platte plan – the more Western Slope water made available to the Front Range, the less ag land will be dried up by expanding cities.
“The South Platte and Metro Roundtables have expressed in many documents and venues that all the available options for water supply development must be pursued simultaneously not sequentially,” the plan says under the heading of “potential future actions.”
“This approach can provide the greatest assuredness that Colorado River Basin water supply may be available for use, thereby reducing the need for East Slope providers to implement large-scale traditional agricultural to water urban water transfers,” the plans also says.
The South Platte plan identifies a range of projects that could deliver new Colorado River water supply to the Front Range and divides them into “large-scale concepts” and “smaller-scale and incremental concepts.”
Under large-scale concepts, there are four “Colorado River transbasin concepts” listed in the plan, and they are on the Gunnison, Green, Yampa and Blue rivers.
The projects have likely all been studied and described in the past in various documents, but they are only briefly described in the South Platte plan.
A potential pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River to the Front Range is more fully explored than others, however, in both the main plan and in Appendix F.
The Flaming Gorge pipeline concept has also been studied in-depth by the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which represents 14 water providers in Arapahoe and Douglas counties.
All four of the “large-scale” projects would require new water storage facilities, including, perhaps, underground aquifers on the East Slope.
The Flaming Gorge project involves contracting with the Bureau of Reclamation for 150,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir. It requires a 355-to-442 mile pipeline and pumps to move water 1,400 feet to 3,100 feet up and over the Continental Divide to the Front Range.
“Diversions would likely vary significantly from year-to-year depending on many factors potentially including hydrologic conditions, current storage levels in federal reservoirs (Colorado River Storage Project and Lake Mead), status of compact compliance monitoring, environmental and recreational needs and management strategies as well as Front Range water demands and storage levels,” the South Platte plan says of the Flaming Gorge pipeline.
The South Platte plan also says that Flaming Gorge concept was put forward by the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which “stressed that the concept is now worthy of serious consideration” and “recommends further investigation as a practical and viable means to manage Colorado’s statewide water resources and that the concept be vigorously pursued in subsequent stages of the developing Colorado’s Water Plan.”
The Blue Mesa Reservoir project also would require a water contract with Reclamation, in this case to move water from the Gunnison River through an 81-mile pipeline into the Arkansas River basin, from where the water would then be pumped into the South Platte basin. This requires pumping the water 3,400 feet in elevation.
The Yampa River project would require a 250-mile pipeline and the need to pump water up 5,000 feet in elevation over at least two mountain passes. The project would divert or pump water out of the Yampa near Maybell into a large reservoir.
The South Platte basin implementation plan says that with “large-scale” projects, there may be ways “to help offset the regional impacts of the projects, maximize and distribute statewide benefits, and ensure continued viability of the West Slope’s economy.”
Or, in other words, provide benefits to the West Slope river basins where the water originates.
For example, in turn for taking water out of the Yampa and White rivers, the South Platte plan finds that more infrastructure could be built as part of the transmountain water project to irrigate more land in Moffat Count, and provide more water to Steamboat Springs.
In the Gunnison basin, a new transmountain project could create more storage in the upper Gunnison River basin and help with water quality problems in the lower Gunnison basin.
The South Platte plan also notes that by building new transmountain diversion projects on the Gunnison, Yampa or Green rivers, it might be possible to leave move water in the already seriously depleted headwaters of the Colorado River.
The plan also identifies a series of smaller-scale projects, including ways to leave more water in Green Mountain Reservoir – on the Blue River in Summit County – for eventual use by the Front Range.
The Wolcott Reservoir would be perched on a cliff above the hamlet of Wolcott, where traffic destined for Steamboat Springs leaves I-70.
It would be an “off-channel” dam and reservoir that would store water pumped uphill from the Eagle River.
Once in a new Wolcott Reservoir, the water could be released downstream – which would free up water in Green Mountain Reservoir for Front Range use – or pumped up over Vail Pass and into the Front Range’s existing water diversion systems.
The South Platte plan also describes a pumpback system that could be installed on the Colorado River below its confluence with the Gunnison River in Grand Junction.
Otherwise free-flowing water, destined for Lake Powell, would be pumped from below the confluence back upstream 16 miles so it could either be diverted into the Government Highline Canal.
Or it could be sent back downstream to help a regularly de-watered section of river below the canal, where native fish species are struggling to survive.
In satisfying the senior water rights on the Highline Canal, and helping to keep fish alive – and the federal government at bay – the lower Colorado River pumpback project could also let water stored in Green Mountain and Ruedi reservoirs be used for other purposes.
“A pumpback project on this stretch could provide water for the senior calling rights, therefore reducing the amount of Green Mountain Reservoir water that would need to be released for West Slope beneficiaries,” the South Platte plan notes.
The Webster Hill Reservoir is described in the plan. It’s a dam and reservoir on the main stem of the Colorado River downstream from the city of Rifle where the river bends away from I-70.
“This concept would include a regulating reservoir on the mainstem of the Colorado River with a volume of 30,000 to 40,000 acre feet,” the South Platte says.
The plan also describes two potential “small-scale” projects on the Yampa River.
One is called the “middle Yampa pumpback” and would take from a tributary of the Yampa, the Elk River, and send it through a tunnel under the Continental Divide and the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area to the headwaters of the Poudre River basin.
A second is called the “mini Yampa pumpback,” which would take water from the headwaters of the Yampa, including Morrison and Service creeks, to Granby Reservoir and on to the Front Range.
Then there is the Taylor Reservoir pumpback, which requires pumping water from Blue Mesa Reservoir up to Taylor Reservoir, and then sending it under the Continental Divide.
“The water court has previously stated that the yield from this concept would be around 50,000 to 60,000 acre feet,” the South Platte plan notes.
Power and water
The South Platte water-supply plan suggests that the South Platte basin is the most important, and powerful, part of Colorado.
“Considering the various conversations with South Platte basin stakeholders, it seems that one of the key overarching messages that should be conveyed is that a good Colorado plan needs a good South Platte plan,” the plan itself proclaims.
It also says, “Colorado lacks a cohesive plan to meet growing Front Range municipal water needs.”
Today, 80 percent of the state’s population lives in the South Platte River basin, which includes the Front Range cities of Aurora, Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins, and many other smaller, but steadily growing cities. Population in the basin, now 3.5 million, is expected to climb to six million by 2050.
According to the South Platte plan, “the single biggest driver of the need for additional water supplies is population growth” and the future water-supply gap in the South Platte basin accounts for 75 percent of the state’s forecasted water gap.
And yet today “agriculture is the dominant water use in the basin, accounting for 85 percent of total water diversions.”
The plan also sounds a “one Colorado” theme.
“There are many factors that support a broad statewide approach to solving South Platte basin water supply issues,” the plan says, including that “regional affiliations are increasingly fluid with offspring of West Slope residents increasingly finding employment and raising families in new South Platte river basin communities.”
Uphill to money
The South Platte plan includes, as Appendix F, a “concept for discussion” put forward by the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which includes a review of how to compensate the Western Slope for the loss of its water.
The Authority’s concept paper finds that “generally, the most useful form of compensation would be unrestricted monetary compensation to be used by the West Slope to compensate unprotected parties and for whatever other purposes its citizenry prefers.”
Rather than committing a certain amount of money for specific projects, the South Platte plan appendix suggests “a development fund” be established “for future water needs or other economic development on the West Slope.”
Front Range money could also be used, the appendix suggests, to try and repair the environmental damage already caused to headwater streams of the Colorado River by Front Range diversions.
Which as the plan put it, could serve as “an early milestone in the process, bringing environmental benefits to the headwaters on the way to project permitting.”
And the paper suggests that the “primary base of funding” for any new transmountain diversion would be “use rates and tap fees,” as “this connects the customers with what they are paying for.”
Two other funding mechanisms are also explored, including a “water” mill levy in nine Front Range counties or a statewide “container fee” on beverage containers, both of which the plan says could generate about $100 million annually for new water projects.
In the analysis of the water mill levy, or property tax, the plan suggests that half of the $107 million raised each year – $54 million – could pay for a new water project and the other half “could help provide water and economic development for the West Slope.”
The plan also notes, as a “point of comparison,” that Gunnison County in 2009 only saw $10 million in general fund revenue.
Finding such funding, and building a new transmountain diversion, would mean, according to the South Platte plan, that “transfers of East Slope agriculture would no longer be the dominant strategy for meeting Front Range water needs.”
A state water project?
However, the plan notes that there are “some important factors affect our ability to implement large statewide projects.
“First, smaller water providers on the Front Range, who will likely bear the largest part of the municipal and industrial gap, do not necessarily have the capability to develop new Colorado River Basin supplies on their own and will likely rely on conservation, reuse, and incremental agricultural transfers leading to a large loss of irrigated land in the South Platte Basin.
“Secondly, it cannot be assumed that cities or private investors will be able to build the Colorado River Basin supply projects needed to avoid a large loss of South Platte agriculture.
“A point has been reached in our state’s development where a state water project needs to be considered in order to minimize impacts of buy-and-dry,” the plan states. “This is the essential trade-off that Colorado’s Water Plan must recognize and address.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story online on Tuesday, July 7, 2015.
Over the course of the process, the state’s nine roundtables, representing eight different water basins (the Metro and South Platte roundtables are in the same basin), have outlined their ideas for state water use. As usual, the Front Range water districts are calling for more water from the Western Slope, with predictable outcry from those on the west side of the mountains.
It’s the failure to make firm decisions on this sort of contentious issue that has led to criticism of the plan, which does not have binding authority and has not required participants to iron out where future water will come from.
The participants in the process acknowledge the document lacks teeth, but Joe Frank, chair of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, said that’s deliberate.
“It is a planning document, it’s not a law, it’s not a mandate, but these are more recommendations that hopefully people can actually follow up on and really start to do some real things,” said Frank.
Yet those outside the process, including famed water expert Pat Mulroy — who led the desert city of Las Vegas’ water planning for decades, spurring the city to unprecedented levels of conservation while also shoring up its water supplies — told the Colorado Independent that a plan that doesn’t force anyone to make tough decisions isn’t much of a plan.
The public can comment on the plan until Sept. 17, 2015. The final draft will be submitted to Governor Hickenlooper in December of the same year.
Can agriculture remain viable and urban water needs be met in one area of fast-growing Northern Colorado? A two-and-a-half year study, funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and facilitated by Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute, says maybe, but there are no easy answers.
The Poudre Water Sharing (PWS) group, made up of representatives from Cache la Poudre River basin irrigation companies and the city utilities and special districts that provide municipal and industrial water from the Poudre, advised the research team as it collected data, surveyed irrigation company shareholders, and developed descriptions and prototype agreements for alternative water transfer methods that might work in the Poudre basin.
What they learned
In the end, the group issued a report at the end of June that details why they tackled the question, what they learned and their recommendations for the future.
“The most important outcome of the work is that solid relationships were built among folks from the irrigation companies and those who manage Poudre basin water for domestic uses — relationships that can be called on for future problem solving,” said MaryLou Smith with the Colorado Water Institute, part of CSU’s Office of Engagement.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board supported the study as part of the state’s effort to find ways to avoid “buy and dry,” the permanent removal of water from agriculture use. Avoiding the practice is a goal stated in the most recent draft of the State Water Plan.
“Overall, the people in our survey sample made it clear that they want something done to address lands being purchased by entities outside of the watershed and the water moved elsewhere,” said Alan Bright, associate professor in CSU’s Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, who conducted the survey of stakeholders. “They want the water kept in agriculture, but they may not always agree with one another about the best ways to do that.”
The need for more urban water has placed a bull’s eye on the Poudre’s agricultural water, but there is a certain amount of hesitancy about entering into water sharing agreements at this point.
“While farmers want to see water stay in agriculture, they also want to be sure nothing jeopardizes their right to sell their water. While domestic water providers understand the many benefits irrigated agriculture brings to the area, they don’t want to restrict their ability to provide a reliable source of water for their future customers,” said Andy Jones of the law firm Lawrence, Jones, Custer and Grasmick, a member of the research team.
A “buy-and-supply” concept surfaced late in the group’s discussions, and gained the interest of others outside the group, such as open space managers and conservation groups. The concept involves creating an entity with public/private money that would buy agricultural land and water at full market value from farmers wanting to sell. The entity would put an easement on the land and water, and lease most of it back to those who want to keep farming, keeping the water in agriculture; a certain portion of the water would be leased for urban use. While PWS members were split on their support for the concept, there was a moderate level of interest among irrigation company shareholders, making it an idea worth pursuing.
“Buy-and-supply is an innovative concept that could include discussions surrounding open space, wildlife habitat, and other quality of life benefits agriculture provides,” said George Wallace, a PWS member who farms near Wellington and is a representative of the Larimer County Agricultural Advisory Board. “Agriculture brings so much more to the region than immediately meets the eye, amenities that will be sorely missed if we don’t move to keep water in agriculture.”
The work started by the PWS will continue this fall as a newly adopted initiative of the Poudre Runs Through it Study/Action Work Group, which will broaden the number of interested parties to include environmental, business, and recreational stakeholders along the Poudre River from Fort Collins, Timnath, Windsor and Greeley. The hope is to better understand the feasibility of ag/urban water sharing arrangements in the Poudre Basin that could result in keeping agriculture viable even as the population in the region grows.
There’s more information on the Poudre Water Sharing group’s study here.
Colorado Springs Utilities will have an easier time meeting conditions of its 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System with Pueblo County as a result of a settlement agreement with Walker Ranches.
The $7.1 million settlement reached June 16 includes $5.78 million to pay a $4.75 million judgment awarded by a Pueblo jury in May plus interest dating back to 2011. Another $1.34 million covers the court costs and expenses incurred by Walker Ranches.
But the agreement does much more.
Pueblo County commissioners are making plans for a compliance hearing later this year on several conditions included in the 1041 permit, including Colorado Springs’ promises to revegetate the entire route of the SDS pipeline through Pueblo County and the provision that landowners would not pay out-of-pocket expenses.
But any issues concerning Walker Ranches are resolved, according to the settlement.
The Pueblo Chieftain obtained a copy of the confidential settlement agreement through a Colorado Open Records Act request after the document was alluded to at the June 26 meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The agreement blocks Gary Walker, principal owner of the ranches, and Utilities from discussing its contents without mutual consent.
Walker had been vocal about damage to the ranchland before and after the jury trial.
The agreement specifies three conditions and accompanying mitigation appendices in the 1041 permit that pre-empt any complaints about compliance from Walker Ranches.
It still leaves open the question of Pueblo County determination of compliance regarding revegetation.
In return, Colorado Springs will address several of Walker’s concerns which it fought in court.
Those include fencing off the area being revegetated, paying Walker $300 per acre annually for the area that is being fenced, working with Walker on improving drainage and modifying the language in its easement if it interferes with future conservation easements.
Future construction activities on the easement are to be addressed separately, according to the settlement.
In addition to revegetation questions, the county is looking at whether Colorado Springs is complying with its commitment to control stormwater.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and City Council President Merv Bennett outlined plans for stormwater funding to Pueblo City Council this week. Suthers also has met individually with Commissioners Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, Terry Hart and Sal Pace.
Colorado Springs wants to include Pueblo County and other entities in a stormwater agreement that would provide input about whether stormwater improvements benefit Pueblo. Stormwater control is important because of the increased base flow in Fountain Creek as a result of more water coming through the SDS pipeline.